Monday, June 27, 2011
Scientists reject human trials of GM wheat
Sydney Morning Herald
June 27, 2011
A group of prominent scientists and researchers from around the world has urged Australia not to go ahead with human trials of genetically modified (GM) wheat.
The CSIRO is carrying out a study of feeding GM wheat grown in the ACT to rats and pigs and could extend the trial to humans.
The modified wheat has been altered to lower its glycaemic index in an attempt to see if the grain could have health benefits such as improving blood glucose control and lowering cholesterol levels.
But eight scientists and academics from Britain, the US, India, Argentina and Australia believe not enough studies have been done on the effects of GM wheat on animals to warrant human trials.
The CSIRO has dismissed their concerns, insisting no decision has been made on if or when human trials will begin.
In a letter to the CSIRO’s chief executive Megan Clark, the scientists expressed their “unequivocal denunciation” of the experiments.
“The use of human subjects for these GM feeding experiments is completely unacceptable,” the letter said.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
New transgenics law under fire
June 23, 2011
Bolivian lawmakers on June 18 approved new legislation aimed at protecting food for the country, but critics argue it will lead to an influx of genetically-modified seeds.
The National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qollasuyo, an indigenous umbrella organization, urged President Evo Morales to veto two articles in the law, which was passed by the Senate, following approval in the lower chamber, because it would give power to the multinational genetically-modified seed and fertilizer companies to overrun indigenous communities with their products.
While the food safety and sovereignty law bans the import of genetically-modified seeds for crops that are native to Bolivia, or those that pose risk to the country’s ecosystem or the population’s health, it allows controlled entry and sale of non-native crops, such as soy, rice, sugar and sorghum.
Isaac Ávalos, head of the ruling Movement to Socialism party, defended the legislation, which he says favors campesino, indigenous, small- and large-scale farmers because it aims to improve food production with expanded loans and support such as machinery.
He said that the genetically-modified seeds will be subject to government studies and approvals, as well as regulations before they can be admitted into the country.
Bolivia has grown genetically-modified soy for more than a decade. This variety is estimated to account for more than three-quarters of the country’s soy production.
Should synthetic biology be policed?
By John Farrell
June 23 2011
What scares many people about the emerging field of synthetic biology is the lack of official safeguards. The Do-It-Yourself movement is taking off, with blogs and user groups of grad students and high school students publicly sharing information about how to home-brew microbes. The International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) draws hundreds of experiments made from basic biology toolkits from undergraduates all over the world. Students from Slovenia were the grand prize winners in 2010 for designing a DNA scaffold that accelerates the synthesis of particular proteins.
These kit-level experiments are harmless, hobbies pursued as much for educational purposes as for ingenuity. But in the wrong hands, some have warned, more than lives could be threatened.
As I mentioned in the last post, Craig Venter’s celebrated paper prompted President Obama to ask Amy Gutmann, President of University of Pennsylvania and the chair of his Bioethics Commission, to look at synthetic biology and assess what the Federal Government should do about this rapidly growing field of biotechnology.
Gutmann called three meetings between July and November of last year to consult with specialists on the question. Venter spoke at the first meeting, along with Drew Endy of Stanford, Harvard’s George Church and MIT’s Kristala Jones Prather, among many other leading resesarchers.
Church, who has made a career out of perfecting the speed with which genes can be sequenced, was emphatic about the need for the Federal government to regulate and monitor the new field. “We need to – it is not sufficient to have a set of rules and guidelines, if there isn’t testing, if there isn’t surveillance,” he told the Commission in July. “You can do licensing, as we do driver’s license, but you have to do surveillance to make sure people are obeying the laws.”
Renewed alfalfa attack cites ESA
By Mateusz Perkowski
June 23, 2011
Biotech opponents have revived their argument that USDA’s deregulation of genetically engineered Roundup Ready alfalfa unlawfully jeopardizes threatened and endangered species.
The Center for Food Safety, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the agency, has asked a federal judge in San Francisco to overturn USDA’s decision to fully commercialize the crop, which can tolerate glyphosate herbicides.
Aside from effectively requesting a moratorium on further planting of transgenic alfalfa, the group also wants the judge to issue an injunction that may limit or prohibit farmers from spraying the crop with glyphosate.
Biotech opponents claim the USDA failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before fully deregulating the crop earlier this year.
“We think that’s ridiculous and we think the court will find the same thing,” said Paul Achitoff, an attorney for Earthjustice who represents the plaintiffs.
AgResearch stalls ‘damaging’ report
By Kiran Chug
The Dominion Post
June 23, 2011
Attempts to shut down a scientific report critical of AgResearch’s practices at its genetic engineering laboratories have been revealed through the company’s internal documents.
The report has sparked a war of words between the Canterbury University professor who wrote it, and the Crown research institute he criticises.
Professor Jack Heinemann, from the university’s Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, wrote the report, which was published in an international peer-reviewed journal last month.
Its publication came about a year after he was asked by GE Free New Zealand to look into AgResearch’s monitoring of the risk of horizontal gene transfers at its Ruakura facility.
AgResearch receives a mixture of taxpayer funding and commercial backing, with about three-quarters of its funding for research carried out at Ruakura coming from public funds.
The report looked at the agency’s offal holes containing genetically engineered cow carcasses and its monitoring of the risk of material from those pits contaminating the soil.
Correspondence made available to The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act reveals that staff who saw a draft of Prof Heinemann’s critical report found it to be “at face value quite damaging”.
“Generally the report looks and sounds authoritative and thorough. The response should be to take it seriously. This is particularly important as it questions the rigour of AgR scientific processes - an issue that any scientific institute must regard as an issue of core competency.”